As librarians and educators, we are passionate about learning and access to information for all. Contrary to the popular idea that apps are only useful for “consumption,” the best mobile apps are being used effectively as tools to enable learning and knowledge creation.
Got iPads, but no time to discover the best apps?
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the number of apps available and not sure where to start with finding the best ones, you’re not alone!
Many librarians have told me that they feel
You might have new iPads in your library or school, but what are the best learning experiences you can create with them? You know that just throwing technology at a problem is NOT the way to go.
When you become “app-literate,” you serve your community by becoming their go-to expert on mobile apps.
When you become an app expert, you become the go-to person for your community—evaluating, reviewing and recommending the very best apps for knowledge creation and active learning. You gain influence in your community by designing innovative programs and services that use mobile apps for learning.
Why mobile devices are not just desktop replacements, how they are enabling better learning experiences, and why app-literacy is important.
Read this for information on buying apps and getting technical support for your device.
Basic things to know about Google's Android and Apple's iOS.
Tips for using the Kindle apps, including how to get content from sources other than Amazon.
In this video I discuss the iBooks app. I also show two multimedia books made with iBooks Author. These have embedded media such as slide shows and 3D images. Books shown include Frankenweenie and NYPL Point: Frankenstein, Making a Modern Monsterby the New York Public Library. You can get each of these titles for free on the iBookstore (iOS only).
Many books are being published as individual apps. This allows them to take advantage of the multimedia features that apps can provide. Beethoven's 9th Symphony by Touch Press is an excellent example. For more multimedia book apps, see my resource guide, which lists many of these interactive book apps.
Borrowing ebooks from your library using OverDrive and using Bluefire as an alternative reader.
Reading magazines on mobile devices with two excellent apps: Zinio and Texture (previously called "Next Issue").
iAnnotate is an excellent app for reading and annotating PDFs and other documents. Read this to learn about new features: https://www.branchfire.com/blog/2016/5/3/introducing-iannotate-4
Use Pocket (Android or iOS) to save web pages for reading later. Another good option is Instapaper. In the video I show how to save articles from your desktop web browser into your Pocket. You can also install a widget on your iPhone for the same purpose. Follow these instructions for Android.
An excellent app for reading and organizing news feeds. Since I made this video, there are a couple of small changes. The button for adding more blogs is called "add content."
To import a whole group of feeds from another reader, follow instructions here:
Click on this to import an OPML file: https://feedly.com/i/cortex.
How to read news feeds with Flipboard, and how to curate content with Flipboard "magazines."
A few articles to get you thinking about e-reading and the future of books.
Dropbox is one of the most popular cloud storage apps. I've been using it for a few years and love it. Box is also very good and is the recommended choice if your institution needs to be HIPAA-compliant. It works in exactly the same way as Dropbox. You could choose to use one or both of these apps -- they are both highly recommended.
NOTE: One thing has changed since I made this video. If you want to open a file in another app, look for the 3 dots menu, then select EXPORT, and then you will see the "open in" choice, for opening the file in another app, like iBooks.
I've been using 1Password for years and I like it. The mobile app is free and the desktop versions cost money, so if you want a free password manager, try LastPass. I prefer 1Password because it has an easier interface and excellent help.
If you would like more information about how to set it up, you can download the 1Password worksheet (PDF) that I made for my other course, Organize Your Life with Mobile Apps.
There are many good to-do list apps. My favorite is Wunderlist. Watch these two videos to see why. Other very nice to-do apps are: Any.Do, Todo, and Paperless. It's a personal choice -- they are all quite good. I use Wunderlist for my daily to-do lists, and I use Paperless for grocery lists, packing lists, and other misc. lists. I like all the cute and pretty icons that are included with Paperless -- it makes your list of lists easy to browse.
I use Evernote for keeping track of EVERYTHING in my life. I love it. It's like a digital file cabinet with great tagging, keywords, search, and folders. The only downside is that it's not designed for pretty formatting.
Penultimate is a useful app for handwritten notes and sketching.
I've been using JotNot for years and I love having a scanner in my pocket. This video was made in 2012 and is still relevant. The way this app works is similar to how all the scanning apps work. JotNot is iOS only, so if you're on Android, try Scanbot (Android and iOS). https://scanbot.io/en/
Scanbot can also scan QR codes. Learn more about its features on their website. Find more apps for scanning different types of barcodes in this article:
Scan, Save, and Share with Handy QR Code and Barcode Scanners.
Scan book barcodes, generate QR codes, and more with Red Laser.
To see a quick overview of Google Docs and Google Sheets, watch this very short intro video from Lynda.com: http://www.lynda.com/Google-Docs-tutorials/Google-Docs-Sheets-iOS-First-Look/171723-2.html.
I like Google Docs and Google Sheets for iOS, but only for very basic tasks. For full features, it's better to use the desktop/web versions.
Google Slides is also available for both Android and iOS. It's not as feature-rich as Powerpoint or Keynote, but has some nice collaboration features. Read this review to learn more:
It's worth trying them on your mobile device, to see what you think.
Two more apps for making your presentations look interesting (no more boring PowerPoint!)
A dictionary with voice search and audio pronunciations.
Wikipedia now has its own official mobile app, and there are several other apps for Wikipedia. Currently, the official Wikipedia app is the only one that allows edits of Wikipedia from your mobile device.
The others are worth exploring because they have useful features such as: saving pages to read offline, bookmarks, history of your searches, reading the article out loud, location awareness - see Wikipedia articles about places nearby, and more.
Wikilinks has some unusual features that are interesting - a mind map view for related articles, links to related YouTube videos, and more.
Convertible is a unit convertor for currency and many other units (length, volume, etc.)
2017: To learn more about the latest features of Google Maps, watch this video: 8 Cool Google Maps Tricks And Hidden Features: https://youtu.be/nJDtaXBEIeQ
To learn about the latest features in Apple Maps, watch this video:
Hands-On with iOS 10's Redesigned Maps App: https://youtu.be/3Pt7_aC_NzQ
Duolingo makes language learning into a game.
Chirp Birdsong USA+ is a fun way to learn birdsongs. Versions of this app for Canada and Europe are also available.
Learn about a few sample apps in this category, including apps for finding open access scholarly articles.
Learn about Papers 3 for citation management, plus links to a few other recommended apps in this category.
Google Arts and Culture is an amazing project that collects art from museums around the world. Get the app for either iOS or Android, and view the web version here:
Watch this video to learn how it works -- it's long, so just the first 5-10 minutes is enough to get the idea. https://youtu.be/dFJZUlqy9HU
It works basically the same way in the mobile apps as it does in your desktop browser.
Try searching the app stores for apps from your favorite museum. The best ones show many highlights from the collections, not just hours and basic information. This document has links to some of the apps from MoMA - Museum of Modern Art.
Use Bamboo Paper to draw on your iPad or Android tablet.
A very good drawing app.
I made this video in 2012 and it's still current. The comic book creation apps I mention in the video are: Comic Book!, Comic Life, and Halftone. The video shows Comic Book!, one of the easiest to use, in my opinion.
See their Twitter feed for links to what people have created with this app.
If you are on Android, try Comic Strip Pro.
Learn more about the Apple Pencil.
If you are interested in going crazy with lots of painting and sketching apps for the iPad, check out this article:
There are many other art apps for collage, 3D printing, sculpting, and more --- too many to go into for this course!
Diptic is one of many useful apps for making photo collages.
Two excellent photo editing apps for both iOS and Android.
More photo editing apps
There are so many good photography apps these days that there could be an entire course on just those. If you're interested in using more of these apps, see 10 Best Photo Apps for iPhone Photography.
SoundHound (Android and iOS)
SoundHound is an app that can listen to music playing nearby and identify it (if it's in their database).
TuneIn Radio Pro (Android and iOS)
TuneIn Radio is an app for listening to streaming radio stations from around the world. You can also use it to record specific programs and save them on your mobile device.
In addition to Apple's well-known GarageBand app, Bloom is an excellent, fun app for creating music.
This video about Bloom is cropped from a longer video that I made in 2012, but it's still current and Bloom works in the same way. Bloom was created by Brian Eno.
ThumbJam is a fun app for creating music.
Watch free educational videos.
Podcasts (mostly audio and some video programs)
Podcasts are a series of regularly published audio or video programs. They are almost always available for free.
Apple's Podcasts can display audio or video podcasts.
There are several other excellent podcast apps for both iOS and Android. Overcast gets rave reviews for iOS, but my favorite is Pocket Casts (with apps for both iOS and Android). Watch this short video review that recommends Overcast for iOS and Pocket Casts for Android.
The good news is that accessibility features of mobile devices are making life easier for people with disabilities.
There is a lot to learn in this area—it could be a whole course. So here’s a brief introduction with suggestions for learning more.
| 1. All Technology is Assistive Technology |
Why everyone should pay attention to disability matters.
| 2. Re-Enabled: iOS's Impact on Those with Impairments isn't Just a Marketing Slide; It's Profound |
Good news about how iOS is working for those with disabilities.
| 3. iOS: a wide range of features for a wide range of needs |
Get the overview of Apple's accessibility features for iOS.
Read this for ideas on the best ways to keep up with new apps and find the best ones.
A list of resources for continuing your learning after the course.
I'd love to hear how you are using the information in this course.
Nicole Hennig is an independent user experience professional, helping librarians and educators effectively use mobile technologies. She is the author of two books, Best Apps for Academics, and Apps for Librarians: Using the Best Mobile Technology to Educate, Create, and Engage.
She offers a variety of instructional resources that bring people from novice to expert, and helps spark ideas for creative uses of mobile technologies.
She worked for the MIT Libraries for 14 years as head of user experience and web manager. She has designed and conducted user experience research, usability tests, websites, web applications, and online instruction.
She has won several awards, including the MIT Libraries Infinite Mile Award for Innovation and Creativity, the MIT Excellence Award for Innovative Solutions, and the ASIS&T Chapter Member of the Year.
Nicole loves teaching, presenting, and inspiring people to use technology effectively.